On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:19-23
As I have been stuck in my house the past couple of weeks, I have been pondering this passage. I realize it is still the season of Lent, but let’s fast forward a bit. Imagine, if you will, Jesus is dead, yet the disciples have unbelievable testimony from Mary Magdalene that Jesus is alive. They are afraid and confused, but also, I would imagine, stressed and tired.
Everything they had spent the last three years working for appears to have been for nothing. The man to whom they tied their fates is dead, Mary’s testimony notwithstanding. I would imagine that they haven’t been getting the proper rest or nourishment. Everything they thought they were building is now in ruins, and they have no plan, no leader, and nowhere to turn.
So, they are hiding. Hiding in fear. Hiding in failure. Hiding in shame. They do not know what will come next, but they know it will not be good. And yet, the unexpected occurs. Jesus appears to them in a locked room. The first thing he says to them is, “Peace be with you.” Then he proves He is flesh and blood and says a second time, “Peace be with you.” He then gives them hope that their lives the past three years have not been in vain. He gives them their future back.
He then does the most remarkable thing: He breathes on them. Echoing God’s life-giving breath at creation, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Comforter, the Counselor. Then Jesus admonishes them on forgiveness. After everything they have been through, Jesus tells them to forgive. He doesn’t want his disciples to live in anger and bitterness.
While there is a lot to unpack here, what strikes me the most is that Jesus meets them where they are. He meets them in their fear, their stress, and their confusion, and he speaks to them where they are. He speaks peace to them. He speaks hope to them. He gives them the Holy Spirit, who will be with them, always.
As I ponder this passage, I cannot help but think about the state of the world right now. We are living in fear of COVID-19. Our governments, workplaces, and health officials are telling us to shelter in place, to self-quarantine and lock our door, and to hope that this virus will pass us by so we will be able to get through it with minimal loss of life.
Jesus, as He did with his disciples all those years ago, meets us today where we are. He meets us locked in our homes, in fear of a global pandemic, and speaks the same words: “Peace be with you.” As believers living in a post-Pentecost world, we do not have to wait for Jesus to breathe the Holy Spirit upon us. The Holy Spirit is with us now. He is still the Comforter, Counselor, and Helper (and so much more).
What a message for us to hear in this time of crisis: Jesus meets us where we are and speaks words of peace.